Editorial: Fiscal conservatives fighting for more fairness, transparency in budget

It’s better not to see laws and sausages being made, the old saying goes.

That also applies to the Louisiana state budget, though some of the process is shielded from the eyes of state lawmakers and

the public.

A cadre of fiscal conservatives in the Louisiana House aim to change that with a series of bills they hope will bring more

openness and fairness to how the budget is crafted and how funds are distributed.

Led by among others by state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, these fiscal hawks want to change how one-time revenue is used

in the state budget, better define state spending priorities and open up more areas of the budget to cut when downturns in

revenue requirement and add more transparency and more time for deliberation before the budget is approved.

Though the group was at odds with Gov. Bobby Jindal during the 2012 regular session, members are quick to point out this is

not aimed at the governor, but the process that is chronically at odds with good business practices.

‘‘We are committed to fixing the broken budget process that results in devastating mid-year and year-end budget cuts,’’ Geymann

said. ‘‘We are committed to protecting core priorities like health care and higher education that are so important to our

people and our state.’’

The conservative lawmakers contend that the use of non-recurring funds on recurring expenditures is unconstitutional and that

only money recognized by the Revenue Estimating Committee can be factored into the budget.

They also want to better insulate

higher education and health care from being the whipping boys when

budget cuts become necessary.

Higher education alone has suffered $625 million in cuts over the

past five years, although the Jindal administration argues

that about two-thirds of that has been made up with tuition hikes

on students.

The fiscal hawks have proposed a

constitutional amendment that requires that if the state’s appropriation

bill funds higher

education and health care at a lower level than the previous year,

the appropriation bill will be divided into discretionary

and non-discretionary spending and state lawmakers would vote on

them separately.

The coalition also wants to require that final passage of the appropriations bill be moved up two weeks earlier in the session

to allow more transparency in the process. Many House members have grown tired of making what they deem necessary cuts in

the budget, only to see those cuts restored in the Senate.

The coalition wants 24 hours notice of any Senate amendments regarding the budget and three days to review those amendments

before voting on concurrence.

So far, the Jindal administration’s response to these reform bills has been tepid. The administration is working on its own

reform campaign to overhaul the state tax system.

State Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexander, said fixing the budget process should precede tax reform.

‘‘It is critical,’’ he said, ‘‘that we fix the way we are putting together our budget before we make major changes in how

we take in revenue. We keep pouring water into our bucket year after year, but’s it clear now that there is a hole in our

bucket. Before we make changes to where we get the water, it would make a whole lot of sense to fix the bucket first.’’

Whether Jindal embraces that notion will go a long way in determining if the fiscal hawks’ proposals will take flight.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.